As light as a long ball
The Replacements ably carries on sports/comedy tradition
by Bob Thompson
Imagine Keanu Reeves as a cuddly QB -- ready, set, whoa! Now you can see The Replacements' major selling point.
Cute and goofy dominate, for this is not a go-deep exercise.
It is a suspicious sports movie hybrid that comes across like the second cousin of The Longest Yard and Major League.
The Howard Deutch production is about misfit could've-beens and almost-was type strike breakers who replace the very rich and very spoiled Washington Sentinel pro football players when they walk out over a contract dispute.
Sure, the subs might be sub-par. But the new guys on the gridiron also arrive with some neat comic devices, as the team owner (Jack Warden) and the legendary coach (Gene Hackman) assemble a squad to continue the football season.
Quite a crew. One has to be released from prison. Another is a sumo wrestler. Two others are gun-carrying 'hood warrior bodyguards, while still another is a heavy smoking and drinking Welsh field goal kicker.
Throw in a God Guy and a speedster wide receiver who can't catch, and you have the supporting cast and some occasionally funny comic relief. Some of the new cheerleaders have stripping in their past, too.
Conveniently, the bulk of the action centres around Reeves, who plays Shane Falco, a former All American and disgraced pro. He's scraping barnacles off boats when coach McGinty persuades him to lead the ragtag team as the quarterback.
From there, Reeves dominates the proceedings with his bouncy hair, his naive grin, his boyish bashfulness and his monotone mumble.
The guy was born to play likable jocks, as he has in the figurative sense in The Matrix, Speed and Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure.
So the team loses one, wins a few, and at the climax they all get their second chance to be somebody, according to screenwriter Vince McKewin. It's a little much, but not too much -- just like the football sequences, just like Jon Favreau as the mad-dog linebacker.
Even the forced love story seems to work between the cheery cheerleader (Melrose Place's Brooke Langton) and the down home QB who wears caps like he's captain of his very own hunting team.
Other positives making up for the negatives of bad pacing and lame slapstick include the always dependable Hackman as father coach. Football announcers Pat Summerall and John Madden play themselves convincingly.
Orlando Jones is sometimes funny as the receiver who can't receive. Rhys Ifans, the nutty Notting Hill roomie, gets some laughs as the huffin' puffin' kicker.
Bow to Reeves, the boy-man of appeal. He shines on lightly but brightly throughout, giving the airy The Replacements a little more weight than it deserves.